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Viewpoint

Words matter: Gendered language in politics weaponizes them against women

One of the most striking aspects of language is its ability to be interpreted in many different ways. A phrase could mean a million different things to a million different people, and a simple change in tone, word choice and syntax could change everything. 

Language and politics are inseparable. Words are the modus operandi of all politicians, and the impact of modern language on women in politics is something to be wary of. 

There are 2,967 women holding elected office in the U.S. This number pales in comparison to the approximately 167.5 million women, of all ages, in the U.S. Women make up more than 50% of America’s population. Yet, they only hold 30% of elected offices on the federal, state and local levels – and this 30% is a record-breaking high, as more than ever before women are now engaging in political office.

A meager 30% is impressively low for a “record-breaking high.” Holding the right to vote for over a century and exceeding men in both quantity and quality of persons educated, American women have all of the tools necessary for success in the political sphere. Yet, the gendered language of constituents, media and other politicians presents an almost impenetrable barrier to women running for elected office. 

For decades, men have benefited from stereotypes around gender in politics, which consistently associate masculinity and effective leadership

Meredith Conroy, a political science professor at California State University San Bernardino, engaged in a research study to examine the use of gendered language in presidential elections from 2000 to 2012. Examining a random sample of 300 print-edition news articles from New York Times and USA Today, Conroy recorded all traits used to describe all presidential candidates and created what is, in essence, a “traits database.” Relying on an existent understanding of “gendered traits” from psychology and political science, traits within the database were labeled as masculine, feminine or gender-neutral. Masculine traits might include “risk-taker” or “fighter,” feminine traits could be “compassionate” or “cautious” and neutral traits were those like “intelligent,” “old” or “liar.” 

Among the articles examined, 56% of the traits recorded as describing presidential candidates were categorized as neutral, 30% as masculine and 14% as feminine. The most common masculine traits were “aggressive” and “confident,” generally framed in a positive light. The most common feminine traits were “weak” and “inconsistent,” generally used negatively. Delving further into the data, Conroy found that, among all feminine traits used to describe candidates, only 31% carried a positive tone. Compare this to the overwhelming 67% of masculine traits used positively, and it is no surprise that masculinity has become associated with effective political leadership. 

Though this study was published in 2015, the use — and potential harm — of gendered language is more relevant now than ever before. And it’s no longer as subtle as character traits. 

Donald Trump’s language during his presidency alone provides one of the clearest examples of the harm done to women in politics by use of gendered, and frankly sexist, language: 

At a news conference in April of 2016, the former president claimed that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, has “nothing else to offer” beyond her “woman’s card … and the beautiful thing is women don’t [even] like her.” 

Following the 2020 vice presidential debate, Trump said that “[Kamala Harris is] this monster that was onstage with Mike Pence … She was terrible. I don’t think you could get worse. And totally unlikeable.” 

Speaking of Senator Elizabeth Warren, Trump said, “Goofy Elizabeth Warren, one of the least productive US senators, has a nasty mouth.” 

Trump referred to former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, as “Nervous Nancy” on his public twitter account. 

During an interview with Rolling Stone, Trump berated Carly Fiorina, his opponent in the Republican primary, saying that she could never be president because of her appearance. He said, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that … I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not supposed to say bad things, but really … come on.” 

Unfortunately, the above quotes are only a small portion of the long list of abrasive comments Trump has made toward women in the political sphere. From degrading women for their appearance to calling them weak or unlikeable for exhibiting very normal human behaviors, the former president made a sport of calling forth hostile sexism against women in politics.

Beyond direct attacks on women, Trump’s attempts to emasculate other male politicians by feminizing them further builds the metaphorical wall to women entering the political sphere. In an attempt to convince former Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the results of the 2020 election, Trump said, “[Pence] can either go down in history as a patriot … or [he] can go down in history as a p*ssy.” Trump directly contrasts being a patriot — a positive and almost essential trait for any nation’s leader — and being a woman. By evoking female genitalia in a clearly negative connotation, the former president promoted the historical tie between masculinity and political leadership. 

If the executive leader of one of the most powerful nations in the world told you time and time again that you were not suited for politics because of your gender or sex, would you not eventually start to believe him? 

The heavily gendered language we hear used regularly to describe suitability for the office of the president, compounded with the traditional belief that masculine traits are necessary for executive leadership, fortifies the idea that femininity and feminine qualities are ill-suited for leadership. In consequence, the improper idea that women are not capable of effective political leadership becomes more and more deeply ingrained in the American psyche.   

From their youth, women are taught through history, experiential learning and the language of our culture that politics is a “man’s world” with no room for women. We are incredibly lucky to be seeing so many women run for political office right now — especially given the culture of toxic masculinity which has washed over the American political sphere. 

We need to elect the most qualified candidates to office, regardless of their gender. However, the current pool of candidates is limited by the use of gendered language, as many highly qualified women are discouraged from even considering candidacy. 

We cannot allow gendered language to continue socializing the notion that women don’t have a place in politics. We cannot allow gendered language to continue excluding more than half of the American population from politics. And in a time of such volatility — where change is not only necessary, but also decidedly happening — we certainly cannot allow gendered language to waste our opportunity to put more women in office. 

Such minor things as what we say can impact such major effects as who leads the free world. Choose your words wisely.

Ainsley Hillman, a sophomore living in Johnson Family Hall, is studying Business Analytics and Political Science. She currently serves as the Director of Operations within BridgeND. Some of her research interests include U.S. foreign policy and the intersection of environmental and social justice. 

BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets on Tuesdays at 5 p.m. in Duncan Student Center W246 to learn about and discuss current political issues, and can be reached at bridgend@nd.edu or on Twitter @bridge_ND.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Viewpoint

What’s next?

What’s next?

This immortal question is the catchphrase of Jed Bartlet, fictional U.S. president and Notre Dame graduate in “The West Wing.” After every celebration of a bill passed, nominee confirmed or negotiation reached, Jed would ask the same question.

What’s next?

One month out from the 2022 midterm elections, you might find yourself asking the same thing. The rush to get your absentee ballot mailed on time is over. The blue and red yard signs have dissipated. Instagram story reposts of election coverage have quieted. 

What’s next after an election?

Benjamin Franklin famously described our government as, “A republic, if you can keep it.” The recent elections make us a republic. But what’s next is to keep it. This is done through civic engagement.

Civic engagement is defined by the New York Times as “promoting the quality of life in a community through both political and non-political processes.” This broad definition might seem intimidating, but there are countless ways to make it actionable. Below I will outline four ways you can keep our republic outside of the election cycle.

1. Volunteer

Although most youth don’t typically associate volunteering with civic engagement, it is one of the most direct ways to impact the causes you care about.

If you’re a student on campus, consider joining Mercy Works, a joint initiative between the  Center for Social Concerns and Campus Ministry that connects students with local service providers. I’ve had the privilege of being a Mercy Works volunteer at DePaul Academy for over a year now, and it is one of the most rewarding things I’ve done at Notre Dame. Every Friday, a few other students and I go to the St. Joseph Juvenile Detention Center to tutor and mentor youth in the DePaul Academy program. I am not only learning about, but actually making a difference in the incarceration situation in our country. And that is pretty cool. 

If you’re not on campus, check out VolunteerMatch.com, which matches individuals and trusted nonprofits across the country for everything from virtual, in-person or one-time service opportunities.

2. Show your local government some love

There’s a good chance you have a new board of education, town council, or mayor. Whether or not you voted for them, they’re the people on your ballot who are not only the easiest for you to connect with, but the most likely to listen! Attend town halls to voice your concerns. Submit editorials to your local newspaper about current legislation. Send letters to officials to hold them accountable for their campaign promises. Local government has a great impact on you, but you can also have a great impact on local government.

3. Stay informed

The time to learn about the issues for the next election cycle is now. However, it is important to be intentional about how you stay informed so that you avoid becoming consumed by the 24-hour news cycle. NPR has some fantastic podcasts that, in exchange for a few minutes of your walk to class, introduce you to the most pressing issues of our time. A personal favorite of mine is Up First, NPR’s daily podcast that gives you the day’s top three stories in 10 minutes.

4. Talk about it

About one in five U.S. voters shared that discussing politics has strained their relationships. However, as social media exacerbates echo chambers and our confirmation bias, staying silent about politics can also be problematic. Although many good-intentioned people advise against discussing politics, they are missing the crucial difference between talking politics and arguing politics. 

Arguing politics is when we discuss politics to prove ourselves right and the other person wrong. However, since political beliefs tend to be very entrenched, an impasse is often reached. No one learns anything new and relationships might even be damaged.

Talking politics, on the other hand, doesn’t have a specific end goal. It’s about sharing experiences, perspectives and opinions in a non-heated, respectful manner. Empathy is gained as both individuals come to an appreciation of how the other reached their beliefs, even if they hold to their initial views.

For Notre Dame students, BridgeND connects students of opposing political orientations to chat about the experiences that led them to their political standings. Off-campus, consider using Living Room Conversations as a guide on how to discuss politics respectfully with loved ones.

In the coming month, many of you will be considering your 2023 New Year’s resolutions. I challenge you to include civic engagement on your list. Sign up for Mercy Works and commit to serving the South Bend community weekly. Read your local newspaper when you’re home over break and write to your elected official about something you learn. Make a daily podcast part of your routine. Be the type of person who facilitates respectful political discourse. 

This is how we keep the republic. 

This is what’s next.

Audrey Feldman (‘24) is majoring in Economics and Global Affairs and minoring in PPE. She is a member of ND’s Write to Vote chapter.

W2V is the Notre Dame chapter of the national Write to Vote Project, a non-partisan, pro-democracy initiative. Its goal is to support democracy, encourage civic engagement and advance voting rights in the U.S. and around the world. You can contact NDW2V at ndw2v@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Viewpoint

I was the Republican debater at the midterm debate. Here’s what really happened. 

It has now been over a month since the midterm debate, and I regret to inform you that leftists on campus still have not quite recovered.

Just this week, another opinion piece (if a glorified Reddit rant can be categorized as such) appeared in The Observer making laughably insane claims about my debate rhetoric and about the Republican platform in general. Before that, there was the infamous letter to the editor published by the Notre Dame College Democrats that unsuccessfully attempted to smear my reputation on campus. I wanted to take this opportunity to personally respond to both of these unhinged diatribes and set the record straight about the true motivation behind these baseless attacks. 

The first article, published by the College Democrats, accused me of “racist,” “anti-semitic” and “transphobic” rhetoric — doing so while providing no quotes or even a single timestamp of any of the aforementioned transgressions (one wonders why). When pressed directly by me in-person for evidence, the College Democrats, apparently being fully serious, claimed that my concern about record rates of fatherlessness amounted to a “racist dogwhistle” and opposition to sterilizing children construed “transphobia.” Regarding the claim of “anti-semitism,” they falsely accused me of equating “Judaism’s position on abortion to Aztec child sacrifice” during a discussion on the Dobbs decision. This claim was made despite the fact that, verbatim, I said that I “did not know about Judaism,” and “was not making any kind of claim about Judaism,” before explaining that a hypothetical religious exemption to abortion laws would be invalid due to the limitations of moral relativism, which is a position supported by the Supreme Court’s decision in Employment Division v. Smith

Likewise, the most recent Viewpoint piece (which somehow manages to be even more unhinged than the first), oscillates between blatant lies, such as claiming that I said “immigrants are inherently violent,” and legitimately deranged rhetoric, including allegations that Republicans (who the author refers to as “vexed vermin”) “actively seek to advocate for the death of [the author] or [his] friends for the crime of being born.” These allegations do not genuinely merit a serious response, but the parallels between the two articles did beg the question of why the campus left has chosen to respond to this debate in the most psychotic way imaginable. 

And the answer to that question is one word: fear. It is an overbearing trepidation felt by leftists here and across the nation toward a changing Republican Party that is finally willing to stand up to their cultural agenda. For generations, the small-government dogma that dominated the American right meant that progressives never had to answer for their radical distortions of sexual ethics, national identity and even basic ontological concepts like gender. But those days are over. Witnessing firsthand the damage cultural liberalism has inflicted on American society, the Republican Party is growing more reactionary. It’s becoming more open to using the state to promote civic virtue and in many cases, such as through the Dobbs decision, it is winning. This, the Democrats cannot handle. 

When I directly confronted the left’s evil, unconscionable sterilization of children, destruction of national borders and erosion of sexual morality, they short-circuited. They were unable to even fathom, let alone process, the prospect of genuine resistance to their cultural sacraments. The College Democrats alluded to this when they attacked me for not speaking “on a wide range of legitimate policy positions enumerated in the Republican National Committee’s official platform.” What this comment really meant is that they want Republicans to continue to spew right-liberal platitudes about individualism or capital gains taxes while they impose their morally depraved worldview on the rest of society, and that any real opposition will not be tolerated. And this is the real reason the Democrats did what they did. 

But make no mistake: neither I nor the Notre Dame College Republicans will be intimidated, and we will certainly not retreat from fighting this cultural battle. The stakes for the survival of our nation — and the health of our core institutions — are simply too high. The left can write as many hit pieces as they want and smear me with however many buzzwords they please; I apologize for nothing, and for me, America will always be worth it. 

Shri Thakur

first-year

Dec. 6

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Viewpoint

Will Kevin McCarthy be Speaker of the House next year?

Despite pre-election predictions of a “red wave” that didn’t manifest at the polls, Republicans will emerge from the midterms with only a slight majority in the House of Representatives. Based on the latest reports, it appears that the GOP will only enjoy a 5-seat majority in the House. President Biden joins the list of exceptions to the historic rule that a president’s first midterm election is a disaster. With an average seat loss of 28 since World War II and 45 for the last 4 Democratic presidents, the president’s situation is much more positive than some anticipated.  

Still, even with a relatively good outcome, Biden and Democrats should expect gridlock as a Republican-controlled House will stonewall their agenda. Even with a slim majority, Republicans can disrupt the Democrats’ goals by stalling legislation, conducting hearings and more. One major factor in how a GOP majority will affect the Biden administration is the leadership on both sides of the aisle. On the Democratic side, we’re already seeing major departures as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced they would not seek leadership positions in the coming term. With that, a new generation of Democratic leaders will usher in an era of new leadership for the Democratic caucus. 

A key question is whether the notably toxic relationship between Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Pelosi will spill over into the new Democratic torchbearers. That assumes, though, that McCarthy will himself remain in leadership. His caucus did vote to endorse him as Speaker of the House, the most powerful position in the chamber. However, with a vote tally of 188-31 and a challenge from protest candidate Representative Andy Biggs (R-AZ), McCarthy’s path to the speakership is anything but certain.

Most people likely think that you need at least 218 votes, or half of the chamber, to be elected Speaker. However, the process is slightly more nuanced. It’s true that you need a majority of votes for the speakership, but that majority is based only on the number of votes cast “for a person by name.” This means that only votes for specific individuals are considered in the calculations. If a representative doesn’t vote or simply votes “present,” their vote doesn’t go towards the majority necessary to be Speaker. For example, if 8 of the 435 representatives don’t vote for an actual person (which happened in 2021), then you actually need 214 votes for the speakership. 

With these rules in mind, the concern for McCarthy isn’t that he failed to receive 218 votes among his party members. There’s a precedent for not receiving a majority in your conference but still being elected Speaker in the official House vote. In 2015, former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) was nominated with 200 votes before garnering 236 votes on the House floor. In 2019, Speaker Pelosi earned 203 votes in the Democratic caucus’s internal vote that expanded to 220 on the House floor. The issue for McCarthy, though, is that he doesn’t enjoy the substantial majorities that Ryan and Pelosi had for their elections. 

Assuming every representative votes for an individual, McCarthy can only afford to lose 4 votes before his speakership chances are in jeopardy. Unfortunately for him, 5 Republican representatives have already publicly announced they won’t be voting for McCarthy: Biggs, Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Bob Good (R-VA), Ralph Norman (R-SC), and Matt Rosendale (R-MT). Even worse, an additional 15 Republicans have voiced privately that they won’t vote for the current Republican leader. On that basis alone, McCarthy can’t be Speaker. If these 20 Republicans don’t vote or vote “present,” McCarthy would need 208 votes to be Speaker, which is 6 less than if the other 202 Republicans voted for him. 

If McCarthy can’t secure his speakership prior to the official vote in January, it would throw the House into turmoil. It’d be the first time since 1923 that a vote for speaker consisted of multiple ballots. Over the course of two days and nine ballots, then-Speaker Frederick Gillett (R-MA) struck a deal with Progressive Republicans to secure his re-election as Speaker. A similar situation could be repeated in 2023. Members of the House Freedom Caucus have expressed interest in changing House rules and procedures in exchange for their support of McCarthy. 

An unlikely, although possible, scenario is that Democrats manage to elect their own nominee for Speaker despite a GOP majority. With 213 seats, Democrats only need 11 Republicans to abstain from voting before they have enough votes themselves to elect a Speaker. Even some moderate Republicans could break from the party line and join the Democrats. McCarthy has recently warned about this potential outcome as a way to galvanize votes among Republicans.

Even if McCarthy becomes Speaker, as top Republicans project despite the mathematical hurdles in the way, the question remains whether he can control the Republican caucus. With a narrow majority and a substantial number of representatives spewing undemocratic, extremist beliefs such as election denial and conspiracy theories, it’s unclear if McCarthy can keep his party focused on a clear agenda. A McCarthy speakership would be defined by constantly balancing the Trump and moderate wings of his roster.  

We won’t know who the Speaker will be until January when the new Congress is in session. Until then, though, we can rest assured that the race for Speaker will be as interesting as it is uncertain.

Blake Ziegler is a senior at Notre Dame studying political science, philosophy and constitutional studies. He enjoys writing about Judaism, the good life, pressing political issues and more. Outside of The Observer, Blake serves as president of the Jewish Club and a teaching assistant for God and the Good Life. He can be reached at @NewsWithZig on Twitter or bziegler@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Viewpoint

Reply all: The greatest delusion in American politics 

There is something uniquely shallow about the way we have begun engaging in debate and it is particularly vexing for any person in possession of their complete senses. 

Go ahead, I dare you to take one look at the political articles that have been published in Viewpoint preceding and following the midterm elections. In the event that you have been spared of their content, allow me to surmise it all in but one word: static. Absolute gray noise that has somehow deluded many into believing that these are grand statements of ultimate might and authority, of a completely original realization that will tear down reality as we know it. But when all is said and done, naught will take place as a direct result. 

On one hand, we have the Republicans being as psychotic as ever. This comes to the surprise of literally no one — they have been at it for quite a while now. As I watched the debate between the College Democrats and College Republicans, I found myself incredulous at the arguments coming from the conservatives. No, calling them arguments would be an insult to debate rhetoric, for these snide remarks sought only to instill fear, ignored logic and lacked but an ounce of empathy. I refuse to believe that anyone that has full awareness of what these words mean would follow them. Be it irrational hatred born out of paranoia or an induced ignorance, it is inexcusable. We can stop pretending there is a debate, a point or even a single iota of integrity in these talking points inflated with the most obvious nationalism, transphobia and the dislocation of religion to fit the ever-moving goalpost that they disguise as “family or traditional values.” I understand we want to hear out all perspectives, but when the perspective in question literally believes that an entire subsection of humanity is inferior, why — God, why? — do we even choose to hear them out? Democracy does not die on the ballot (by then it has already perished), it dies when we allow a disfigured sense of tolerance to blind us into believing that these people would play by the rules of the game. 

That is not to spare the response from the less-bloodthirsty side of the community. I am baffled at the complete and utter emptiness that these declarations of condemnation have. Seriously? You are talking about morality and safety to those who reject intellectualism, that either lie about or somehow genuinely believe that children are being taught to hate white people in schools, or that immigrants are inherently violent? You think that they will listen that hate has no place here and go, “Oh dear, oh my, I am so terribly sorry! I shall change my ways now that I have successfully been called out!” Unreasonable people sadly lie out of reach of words. 

And of course, because this has happened a million times before and will happen many more until the lesson is learned, the Republicans addressed none of the points when replying to these condemnations and just focused on talking of the topic of abortion to gain holy points from the easily impressed of the community, twisting the words to narrow down the response to a singular point and throw around playground insults to the other side. Why? Oh, what a great mystery! Because their beliefs are inherently based on hatred: a hatred that we all know and are fully aware of, but they can’t say out loud because then even their level of doublethink could not shield them from realizing the evil root of their actions. Their supporters won’t realize how ignorant and empty their reply was; they have long since stopped caring about common sense, rather preferring to reside in a perpetual echo chamber where their contradicting beliefs of justice can coexist. For they certainly can’t in the real world. Of course, my words won’t convince them, either, but we all know that, and we are equally aware of this as we engage in this so-called debate. 

For they never sought to have a conversation, they merely wish to shout their hateful rhetoric as loud as they can under a desperate desire to feel grand and protected, to defend their selfish interests at the cost of everyone else because they have been deluded enough to believe this is an act worth feeling proud about, rather than ashamed. And yet, you do something similar. You virtue-call their every action, tell the world that they are very wrong, by the way, in case you were not aware, and while you are certainly right, what is your end goal? Who are you trying to convince? Certainly not them, and most of the community has picked a side before a single word was exchanged. Of course, something must be said; to allow them to control the narrative would be madness. But these empty words might as well be a drop of water in a forest fire. The Kafkaesque, hyper-bureaucratic methods of debate work against change. They do not help create democracy — they smother it. 

A particular shame should befall the elitist, ever-enlightened centrists that “call out both sides.” How impressive of thee, to not soil your hands with the fools and with all disagree. You are a very intelligent person. Nay, to take a kindergarten “let’s listen to both sides” approach or that “both sides are the same” is such a childish, narrow-minded perspective that only nurtures a sense of superiority. Truthfully, I am not a fan of a great amount of the Democrats, either; plenty of them have demonstrated their selfish interests that do not reflect the popular will (simply glance at our healthcare or transportation system, at the blind and endless support for pointless wars, at the lack of protections for labor unions and immigrants, at the way lobbying has the final say in many of the governmental decisions, among others). Yet at the very least, they will pretend to care and not actively seek to advocate for the death of me or my friends for the crime of being born — though, of course, they will never say this last part out loud, even if they mean it wholeheartedly. It is not that complicated to pick the lesser of two evils, believe it or not. I, as many others, am not content with our options, and it is evidence of how broken our democracy is; we merely wait for a better option to become available once our generation starts obtaining positions of power. Yet, in the meantime, centrism is simply not the answer: It is an evasion mechanic, a blindfold to wear. Although I guess being a centrist is still not as embarrassing as being a libertarian.

We must say the quiet part out loud: We must strip this dull and foolish game of its flowery embellishments that contribute naught but aesthetics. It goes without saying that there is clear nuance on both sides — not everyone falls on party lines — but I am tired of pretending; I am tired of playing this surprised character when we all follow the script that we were given; I am tired of clapping and crying when the most apparent and glaring statements are spoken; I am tired of blinding myself and all of those around me. 

To you all vexing vermin, shame on you. As for the others, congratulations. We are winning: just take one look at the absence of this fabled Red Wave. Ultimately, the hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. They are scared, as they realize they play a losing game and lash out, but come on. We can do better. Before typing out your argument, before shouting into the void, realize where and how your energy should be spent and stop playing the part of an empty puppet — change the world for the better.

Carlos A. Basurto is a first-year at Notre Dame ready to delve into his philosophy major with the hopes of adding the burden of a Computer Science major on top of that. When not busy you can find him consuming yet another 3+ hour-long analysis video of a show he has yet to watch or masochistically completing every achievement from a variety of video games. Now with the power to channel his least insane ideas, feel free to talk about them via email at cbasurto@nd.edu (he is, tragically, very fond of speaking further about anything at all).

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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News

Recently elected Gen Z representative excites students

On Nov. 8, at the age of 25, Maxwell Frost became the first Generation Z congressman-elect in the country. Representing Florida’s 10th District, Frost will take his seat in the House of Representatives on Jan. 3, 2023, for the 118th United States Congress.

Students tended to say that a younger representative can offer greater representation.

“Hearing the news of Frost’s election really excited me because I do feel more represented with him being the first Gen Z congressman,” said Notre Dame first-year Mac Johnson.

In addition, the impact of the congressman’s election offers a voice to a different perspective on pressing issues, another student said. 

“It’s so important for Gen Z to gain representation in Congress because our generation offers a fresh perspective on divisive issues,” Saint Mary’s sophomore Mari Prituslky said. 

Tommy Rafacz, a first-year in O’Neill Hall, seconded that the congressman-elect offers a new voice in the House.

“I think it’s good to see fresh voices and perspectives that should come with a new generation,” Rafacz said.  

David Campbell, professor of American democracy at Notre Dame, said that age does not get as much attention as other identity factors.

“But it should, because when you look at public opinion, young people often differ from older people in many of the positions that they take and those views should be represented in the system,” he said. 

Campbell also said that a younger representative is more likely to lean toward the extreme positions of his party. 

“A younger person coming up in either party is more likely to be on the extreme wings of the party,” he said. “And that’s because they have come of age in an era when the parties are highly polarized.”

Although there is a difference in age brackets between younger and older politicians, Campbell does not believe that there will be a significant change in political representation.

“I’m not sure that it does represent any kind of dramatic change, in that it’s still a relatively small number [of younger candidates],” he said.

Nonetheless, certain issues on both parties will become more important as younger candidates become elected.

“We know that this is a group — and this is actually true on the left as well as on the right — that are far more accepting of LGBT people,” Campbell said. “We also know that young people in general are more concerned about the environment than their elders… I would expect both parties actually to take the environment more seriously than they have.”

Mike McKeough, a junior in Alumni Hall, emphasized how Gen Z representatives can better reflect the values of young people.

“We’re getting different viewpoints that reflect a different demographic of the population,” McKeough said.  

Finally, Campbell believes that younger politicians are more inclined to use social media as a means to facilitate communication with their voters.

“We usually think of younger candidates as being very media savvy, much more so than their elders,” he said. “[So] I’d be interested to know whether or not there’s any evidence that Frost was more adept at using social media or communications strategy than either his immediate opponent or other candidates in that same area.”  

Contact Sam Godinez at sgodinez@nd.edu

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Viewpoint

How misinformation/ disinformation on social media is destroying our democracy 

Social media has given a platform for individuals to share their voices faster and to a broader audience than ever before. At our nation’s founding, it would have been unimaginable to predict that anyone would be able to speak at any time from anywhere. This phenomenon has lent itself to the creation of a new type of speaker, a bolder ego unafraid of sharing what is on their mind. In reaction, our government is stuck with a thought-provoking dilemma of what “free speech” truly entails in this day and age. The oratory vehicle that social media has become provides several cultural stresses on the democratic structure, such as an overload of information, the creation of a hive mind and radicalization. Perhaps the greatest threat to democracy, which works in tandem with the aforementioned, is the growing misinformation and disinformation online.

Anyone can fall into the snares of believing and spreading false information. This was evidenced by a study done by researchers at MIT which found that “false news stories are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true stories are.” That study becomes even more potent when looking at a mass of individuals, where it was mentioned that “it takes true stories about six times as long to reach 1,500 people as it does for false stories to reach the same number of people.” Another study that exemplifies the true might of this swelling issue is done by PEW Research Center which found that “62% of Americans get their news from social media” and “two-in-three U.S. adults (64%) say fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current issues and events.” These numbers become even more alarming when noticing that this study was conducted in 2016, and one can assume that with social media gaining more influence almost daily, the percentages of adults that receive their news from social media has increased since then. In addition to this, recent controversies such as the 2016 and 2020 elections, the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict have further contributed to the public’s perception of inaccurate information in their daily news consumption. 

If speech has lost its value in society and is no longer desired to be truthful, then what exactly drives speech to be productive? The founding fathers, with Madison serving as a preeminent example, believed that speech would be a tool to uphold the democratic structure by allowing people to put forth their best argument and allow society to choose the superior. However, platforms, in the form of social media, have sanctioned speech that is innately worthless with the intent to troll and solicit a reaction. The more salacious a headline, the more engagement it is bound to receive. Not only does this cultivate fake news, but it also changes insights of the general public. Fake rhetoric allows for radicalization and a strengthening of ideals through an echo-chamber. It also may allow for individuals to feel overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information available and discourage them from participating in the wider political sphere. This problem then breeds bigger issues such as the political polarization that seemingly widens each day. Thus, our democracy is on its way to facing a grave peril.

The question now beckons — which approach should the government enforce to tackle this menacing predicament? To start, it should be noted that the government would be greatly overstepping its power to combat this problem, because it has no jurisdiction over these social media platforms as they are private entities. One should ask themselves if they believe that social media should be held accountable by the government for allowing false information to be spread. Is the problem so dire that it would require the government to encroach in the private sector? 

To answer this, there are two salient schools of thought that are worth mentioning. The first of which is libertarianism, which essentially believes the marketplace of ideas should be allowed to occur naturally and be shown deference from the government. Justice Kennedy, who prescribes to this ideology (Fish, Stanley Eugene, “What Is the First Amendment For?), has shown his wariness to the government’s “chilling” speech. On the other side lies consequentialism, which argues that speech should be regulated by the government if the harms outweigh the benefits of the speech. A growing outcry in favor of consequentialism has emerged with false information being spewed across a myriad of social media channels. Consequentialists would most likely believe that the threat posed by misinformation is too hazardous and thus should be controlled by the government. 

Personally, I identify more in the libertarian camp. I struggle with allowing a government to have control over censoring voices, as this could eventually lead to the silencing of opposing voices. However, I do think that social media has transformed speech as we understand it and that the government must adjust to our new reality. The government should not have the power to dictate what constitutes “false” information, but perhaps it should put pressure on social media misinformation warning, and I think we should ensure that apps begin to make this the norm in order to address this problem. Regardless if this is the answer or not, something must be done to stop the spread of misinformation. Maybe then people will be able to have more productive conversations about politics and can come to understand their own beliefs on a deeper and more truthful level.

Kelly Harris is a senior at the University of Notre Dame majoring in political science and minoring in digital marketing, musical theatre and Glynn Honors. She is originally from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and resided in Pangborn and Johnson Family Halls. If you wish to reach Kelly with any questions or concerns feel free to email kharri22@nd.edu.

BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets on Tuesdays at 5 p.m. in Duncan Student Center W246 to learn about and discuss current political issues, and can be reached at bridgend@nd.edu or on Twitter @bridge_ND.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Political polarization, identity politics and social media

In modern-day politics, political parties are more polarized than ever. This division between Democrats and Republicans has prevented bipartisan legislation from being implemented to address critical issues in the United States. However, American politics were not always so divided. This begs the question, what caused political polarization in our democracy? The answer is simple: identity politics and social media. 

For historical context, in a 20221 article Elizabeth Kolbert claims that the Democratic and Republican parties were similar around the time of the 1950s. In fact, the “American Political Science Association issued a plea that Democrats and Republicans make more of an effort to distinguish themselves.” Eventually, political scientist Lilliana Mason describes “the great sorting” that took place at the start of the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy, and Roe v. Wade. These landmark movements instigated a social sorting that eventually led to the ideological division between Democrats and Republicans. 

When thinking about the beginning of political polarization, it is essential to look at the topics of the movements that dramatically shifted American politics. Issues of racial and gender inequality, reproductive rights and political exploitation formed two distinct sides around identity politics. According to the Oxford Dictionary, odentity politics involve the “tendency for people of a particular religion, race, social background, etc. to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics.” As explained in this article about the ongoing debate over identity politics, those in favor of identity politics argue that America needs to continue discussing and fighting on issues such as gender equality, racial justice and LGBTQIA+ rights. On the contrary, those opposed argue that identity politics “serve as a distraction from issues they view as more important and politically palatable,” such as the economy. Essentially, this is a debate between preserving a status quo that has historically protected white, cisgender, straight men and creating space for minority groups to be included in mainstream America. While economic issues are extremely important and need to be addressed on a legislative level, there needs to be equal attention to the oppression and marginalization that American citizens belonging to minority groups are facing by upholding this harmful status quo. Additionally, this ultimatum between economic and identity issues suggests that this is an “either-or” scenario when, in fact, both of these issues can be addressed at the same time. However, political party polarization between Republicans and Democrats places limitations on making progress on both due to the increasing divide between political ideals. 

A study by the Pew Research Center shows that half of Democrats and half of Republicans believe their political opponent is immoral. Another to Kolbert’s article, a study by YouGov found that 60% of Democrats and 70% of Republicans believe their opposing party is a “serious threat to the United States.” Both of these studies show the current and dramatic political polarization in America. In fact, the U.S. is so politically polarized that the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance added the U.S. to its list of “backsliding democracies” (Kolbert). Currently, there are two issues that are limiting the potential for extreme political polarization to come to an end, both of which stem from the same source: social media. 

Not only has social media enhanced political polarization, but it has become a breeding ground for misinformation and extremism. Because moderates in the Republican and Democratic parties are not as active in participating in online political discussions, extremists serve as the dominant voice and representation for their respective political parties. Chris Bail, the director of Duke’s Polarization Lab, describes this as false polarization: individuals believe people in the opposing political party are more extreme than they actually are. This brings up the first issue in combating political polarization: those who have done the most to polarize America seem the least inclined to recognize their own “impairments.” In terms of social media, extremists on both sides have exacerbated polarization and spread misinformation, creating a false perception of the political ideologies of each party. The second issue is that while each party regards the other as a “serious threat,” this does not mean they are equally threatening. Events that occurred under Trump’s presidency and peak influence, such as the Jan. 6 insurrection over his questioning of the legitimacy of the 2020 election results, undermined fundamental trust in the democratic electoral process. This event dramatically shifted American politics and enhanced polarization among the political parties even further. While there is not an obvious solution to close the widening gap between political parties’ ideologies, recognizing the false narratives portrayed by the media is one way to limit harmful stereotypes that only advance political polarization.

Grace Sullivan is a first-year at Notre Dame studying global affairs with a minor in gender studies. In her column I.M.P.A.C.T. (Intersectionality Makes Political Activist Change Transpire), she is passionate about looking at global social justice issues through an intersectional feminist lens. Outside of The Observer, she enjoys hiking, painting and being a plant mom. She can be reached at gsulli22@nd.edu.

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What’s the path forward?

As I write this column, I find myself in a slightly uncomfortable position. It is currently on track to be printed after the conclusion of this week’s midterm elections, but will be written before the United States goes to the polls. Since I could not find any crystal ball to accurately predict the future in Notre Dame’s bot-ridden Sales and Giveaways GroupMe, the following column has no choice but to be a mixed bag of predictions I hope will turn out to be at the very least slightly correct, and an analysis that will hopefully not fall flat once the results of the midterms are known. 

The general narrative that has dominated the news cycle in the closing days of the 2022 campaign is one of Republican resurgence and potential dominance. After the Supreme Court decided to overturn Roe v. Wade this summer, Democrats were buoyed by public anger towards the ruling. Hoping to transform the elections into a referendum on abortion access, Democrats believed propelling social issues to the core of their messaging would help boost key components of their coalition: the young, women and ethnic minorities.

At first, it seemed to be working, as Democrats saw their poll numbers improve, and even came to lead Republicans throughout the waning days of summer and early into the autumn. Additionally, Democrats overperformed in special elections and gained further confidence in their strategy after abortion rights groups scored a momentous landslide victory in defense of their cause in ruby red Kansas. However, winds began to blow in the GOP’s favor as the campaign barreled into full swing, as the nation’s economic woes continued to become more latent, and Republicans took advantage of the Democratic focus on the abortion rights issue to commandeer the narrative on the economy, inflation, and crime.

The last two weeks saw the pendulum swing towards the Republicans rather precipitously, and the day before the election saw the Republicans leading Democrats by just under three points in RealClearPolitics’ generic ballot poll aggregator. FiveThirtyEight, arguably my most visited website in the past few months, predicted Republicans to be slightly favored to take control of the Senate, while simultaneously giving them over four in five odds to flip the House of Representatives as well. 

If by the time this column is printed Democrats achieve what most now see as close to impossible and retain total control of government, the first thing that will emerge is a huge sigh of relief from just about everyone in the White House. Democrats will have had made history, and would have received a huge vote of confidence from the American people, as such a victory bucks a trend that has only broken twice in over seventy years.

In this instance, business would continue as usual, with varying degrees of bickering and debate depending on the size of their parliamentary majorities. If they are anything like the one in the last two years, expect more of the same. However, most analysts agree that the aforementioned scenario is unlikely to play out, and that Republicans will have taken back at least one chamber of Congress. Here, the fate of President Biden’s agenda will take a dark turn, as its fate will come to rely on the administration’s negotiating prowess and congressional Republicans’ goodwill. 

In this instance, what’s the path forward? 

The state of polarization in contemporary American politics, and the built-in dysfunctionality of divided government presents a less than rosy picture for the remainder of President Biden’s turn. Recent history is proof enough. After taking back control of the House of Representatives in 2010, and control of the Senate in 2014, President Obama’s legislative agenda effectively stalled. After winning back the House in 2018, President Trump encountered a similar fate. In both instances, politics in the United States was reduced to partisan theater and continuous gridlock. Buoyed by their support and validation at the ballot box, Republicans in 2022 will no doubt be tempted to resort to the same strategies of the near past, and turn the remaining half of President Biden’s term into a rambunctious spectacle with the intent of gearing up to retake the White House come 2024. 

In my opinion, taking such a stance would only inflict further pain in an already hurting country. At a time where inflation soars to four decade highs and confidence in the nation’s institutions collapses to an all time low, adding more flames to the fire only threatens to sink the United States deeper into the pits of despair. The solution to the dire problems of our present will not be found forcing the government into another prolonged shutdown, vetoing every piece of legislation that lands on the Resolute Desk or stalling at every turn. 

If both Democrats and Republicans are honestly committed to improving the sliding standard of living of countless American families and refuting the 70% of Americans that think the country is on the wrong track, they both need to understand that a day of reckoning is upon them. Elections have consequences, but this time around the consequences need to go beyond who’s in the Majority and who’s in the Minority, but on how the Majority and Minority can both provide the best solutions to lift the country off such a delicate situation. 

Pablo Lacayo is a senior at Notre Dame, majoring in finance while minoring in Chinese. He enjoys discussing current affairs, giving out bowl plates at the dining hall, walking around the lakes and karaoke. You can reach him at placayo@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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‘Let’s go Brandon!’

If you are about to email my editor demanding that I be terminated from The Observer staff because I’m a fascist bigot, just hear me out before you do so.  But I hope that your first thoughts are more so of intrigue regarding my clickbait title, and as fortune favors the bold, let me explain my position. I honestly had several thoughts on what this piece should be titled before finalizing my decision. “A Slice of South Dining Deli Ham Focused Grouped to be more Presidential than Joe Biden” and “Laura Ingraham; Says the Commentator Who Was Just Called a Piece of Domesticated Feta by The Atlantic” were examples of titles that swarmed my brain during the creative writing process. But a writing goal I have is to be more succinct, and nothing speaks more concisely to the hysteria of contemporary American politics than “Let’s Go Brandon.”

It is midterm election season after all, and this hysteria is all the craze. There is a great scene from the “Game of Thrones” prequel, “House of the Dragon,” that highlights my current frustration with politics. At a royal hunt thrown for the birthday of his son, King Viserys is presented with proposals from suitors to wed his oldest daughter, Rhaenyra. After he asked to consider another ridiculous proposal for his daughter’s hand, King Viserys simply retorts, “I have come here to hunt, not to be suffocated by all this f***ing politicking!” Same brother, same. My contempt for politics is similar to the King’s and can probably be attributed to my exposure to media and civil discourse at a very age. Growing up in suburban Cook County certainly placed me in an ideological “No Man’s Land.” Liberal agendas in Chicago proper continuously struck blows with the conservative ideologies that resided in the rest of Illinois. Beginning in the fourth grade, I would always beg my dad to bring home a copy of the Chicago Sun-Times after work, to which he would always oblige. Of course, the sports section was my singular preference for several years, but as I began to read more, that content began to dry up. So, I turned to the sections of the newspaper not made for the faint of heart, business and politics. And I was shocked at the headlines that would creep across the pages as I started to retain information, and in turn, think for myself. Rod Blagojevich’s imprisonment, the assassination attempt on Gabby Giffords’ life, the 2012 presidential election, and so many more headlines frustrated me. Why politics was so violent, corrupt and self-aggrandizing was something I just couldn’t understand. Unbeknownst to me, this would only get worse. Much worse. 

So, let’s fast forward to 2020, one of the most discouraging years in recent memory. The 2020 general elections were a buildup of economic, social and, of course, COVID-19 issues that ravaged our national landscape, and it brought out the worst in social justice warriors and proud boys alike. Social media was a battleground for “Gotcha Journalism” and political interest, and the general election came center stage that November, a stage for all to see. And to me, it highlighted how damaging politics can be. So damaging in fact that it impacts the very fibers of our human spirit. While Joe Biden lamented on webinars, “If you don’t vote for me, then you’re not Black,” Donald Trump made verbal attacks on the character of Biden’s son Hunter, while belittling his deceased son Beau. Later, the events of Jan. 6 solidified that our American political culture is plagued with one of the worst culture wars our society has ever seen. And while memes can attempt to rectify the situation (these are so funny), there are no signs this culture war will be slowing down anytime soon. 

Now let’s fast forward to the present, November 2022. Two years into Biden’s term as the 46th president of the United States, the Right continues to have a field day as “Let’s Go Brandon” chants consistently flood our stadiums. The left hopes to hold some ground in congress with elections next week, but if history has anything to say about it, conservatives are going to have a field day next week. Yes, I could write that the damage is seen in the way we address things as Right and Left, but the factors that have irritated me the most in this political season are the ways both sides of the aisle view their politicians. This isn’t about who wins and who loses, or who even will be president in 2024. This is much bigger than that. Politicians no longer view themselves as public servants, and in turn, their supporters don’t either. There is a perception that our politicians are “free-thinking champions of conservative or liberal ideologies.” But the reality is, that the majority of our supposed “public servants” are limousine liberals or country club conservatives. So, the question must be asked, when and why did public service become a political aspiration? Some might disagree with Plato in his opinion that philosophers make the best leaders, but he is not wrong in stating that political leadership is a duty, not a career preference or an avenue for the pursuit of power and self-interest. The best leaders are chosen for their positions, not by their own advocacy, but through the support of others who see that they have the right qualities to lead. 

Are there obvious flaws in the very pillars of our American Constitution and democracy? You bet. Are there socioeconomic inequities that exist between classes and races in our country that have been made worse by political self-interest? Yes sir buddy, yes sir. Are there tangible solutions that will help our society move forward and heal? I don’t know. And I am not going to pretend that I know the path forward to find politicians that will stand for office out of public service. But I do know two things that must be eradicated to have any hope to achieve societal goals in a partisan fashion. First, the “me” focused attitude of our politicians in office must be adjusted. Far too often we see politicians fixate talking points around “When I was in office, inflation did this, unemployment rates went down, and my bills passed did this blah blah blah blah blah.” Political rhetoric has always been a problem for politicians, but maybe if they at least pretended to be public servants then this conversation would be different. But they don’t. It’s not about you. It’s about the country and the people you represent who voted you into office. But what do I know? 

Secondly, political theater and stunts must be stopped at all costs. Looking at you Martha’s Vineyard and all parties involved. The September stunt, which saw dozens of migrants from Latin America be flown into the haven for the super-rich denied these migrants a chance at finding basic human dignity through the ability to work. Democrat party leaders such as Joe Biden call it a stunt but were criticized for inaction. Republican officials such as Florida governor Ron DeSantis called it a motion to prove the hypocrisy of the left but were seen as being cruel and intolerant. And this is only a recent stunt that has made headlines, as political theater is nothing new to our democracy. Public service, not political agendas, might be able to dissuade that. 

As Saint Mother Teresa always used to pray “The Fruit of Service is Peace,” and maybe, just maybe if our leader’s pursued servitude, then we might be able to find peace as a nation. Or maybe at the least, they wouldn’t be the punchline of jokes like “Let’s Go Brandon.”

Stephen Viz is a one-year MBA candidate and graduate of Holy Cross College. Hailing from Orland Park, Illinois, his columns are all trains of thoughts, and he can be found at either Decio Cafe or in Mendoza. He can be reached at sviz@nd.edu or on Twitter at @StephenViz. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.